Archive for December, 2010

Saints (10-3) @ Ravens (9-4)

December 17, 2010

Filling out the rankings chart (above) is getting to be a bit depressing.  As the weeks rolled on, I really expected the Ravens’ offense to inch closer and closer to being a top 10 unit.  Instead, even after playing the lowly Houston Texans and their 31st ranked defense, the Ravens dropped in every offensive category when compared to last week.

Total offense: 16th to 18th

Rushing offense: 19th to 21st

Passing offense: 13th to 14th

They did go from the #17 scoring team to the #14 scoring team, but as we know, the special teams and defense had as much to do with that as the offense did.

At least, though, the most important number – wins – moved in the right direction.  However, it’s still a little disheartening that the offense continues to struggle as much as it does.  Thinking that they can find a quick answer down the stretch seems to be becoming more of a…well, stretch.

This week, the defending Super Bowl Champs roll into Charm City, winners of six consecutive games. They’ve also put up 30 or more points in five straight games, which gives Ravens fans a nice pre-holiday case of indigestion after watching the Texans rack up 21 second half points on Monday night.

Upon further review though, it’s not like the Saints have been hanging 30 on the ’85 Bears. Their recent 30 point outputs have come against the Rams (15th in points allowed), Bengals (28th), Cowboys (31st), Seahawks (24th), and Panthers (26th). Even after blowing their first 21-point lead since 1997, the Ravens much-maligned defense is still fourth in the NFL in points allowed. Throw in a healthy dose of the elements, and this game should be far from the shootout that many are predicting/fearing.

Which isn’t to say that Drew Brees and his stable of big play wideouts/backs doesn’t present a formidable challenge.  Brees is playing as well as any quarterback in the NFL right now, and is just the type of “elite” signal-caller that the Ravens have struggled time and again to find a way to beat over the past five years or so.

If Brees has one chink in his armor this season, it’s been the interception.  “Breesus” has already been picked 18 times, tying his career high.  That’s 3.4% of his throws that are being intercepted, highest since his third season in the league in San Diego (for comparison, Joe Flacco’s INT percentage this year is 1.9%).  When the Ravens last played the Saints in 2006, they picked him off twice and both were returned for touchdowns.  After four interceptions in his first four games back off the PUP list, Ed Reed hasn’t gotten his hands on a pass in three straight contests.  Sunday would be a great time for Reed – who looked slow, old, and hurt at times Monday – to come alive again.

When you think New Orleans, you think offense.  However, their defense is none too shabby either.  After leading the NFL in turnovers a season ago, which helped mask their 25th-ranked defense, this year’s Saints have been much more consistent – at the cost of the turnovers – on that side of the ball.  They currently sit as the #6 defense in the NFL, allowing just 308 yards per game.  They’ve intercepted just nine passes though, four shy of the Ravens’ 13, and 13 less than the Philadelphia Eagles’ league-leading 22 picks.

They’re more vulnerable on the ground than they are through the air, but nothing the Ravens have done lately inspires any kind of confidence that they can exploit the Saints with the running game.  Baltimore is still averaging just 3.6 yards per attempt on the ground, tied for next-to-last in the NFL.  Monday in Houston – despite focusing on the running game with unbalanced lines and such – they were even worse, averaging just 2.6 yards per carry.  Le’Ron “Ankle Sprain” McClain looked like he was still a bit bothered by the injury Monday, so hopefully he can get back to full strength and do a better job of opening some holes (McClain missed practice Thursday with an illness.)

Todd Heap still hasn’t returned to practice (as of Thursday), so his status is very much up in the air for Sunday.  Heap has never been the best blocking tight end, but at this point he is worlds ahead of rookies Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta.  Heap’s absence not only hampered the Ravens in the passing game against Pittsburgh and Houston, but on the ground as well.  Keep your fingers crossed that #86 makes an appearance on the practice field Friday. (Update: Heap is OUT Sunday. Damn it.)

Even more concerning than their inability to run the ball lately, has been the Ravens’ pass protection.  Joe Flacco has been sacked 32 times now, and an incredible 22 of those have come in the six games since the bye (3.67 sacks per game).  The Saints are right in the middle of the pack in sacks, with 26 (the Ravens have 24).  Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams, who never met a blitz he didn’t like, was surely licking his chops this week looking at film of the Ravens’ inability to stop a rushing safety.  That’s right, even after Cam Cameron assured us that whatever breakdown in protection allowed Troy Polamalu to steal the Pittsburgh game from them was fixed, Houston safety Bernard Pollard came untouched over and over Monday night on his way to 1.5 sacks.

WTF, Cam? WTF, Matt Birk? WTF, Michael Oher? Fix it, please.

On the bright side, the Ravens’ special teams have been playing lights out lately.  Rookie David “Cop Speed (cuz you got weed)” Reed now leads the NFL in kick return average after his franchise record 103-yard touchdown return last week.  He also had an 84-yard return against Carolina.  Billy Cundiff is now just three touchbacks shy of tying an NFL record.  Sam Koch (more like Sam Kick, am I right?!) was incredible Monday, dropping 5 punts inside the 20-yard line, including the crucial one in overtime.  He leads all punters with 34 placed inside the 20.  Winning the field position battle will go a long way towards a Ravens win on Sunday.

The New Orleans Saints may be the best team the Ravens play all year (New England would be a close second, but they weren’t playing their best football in Week 6 when the Ravens saw them).  Playing them on a neutral field (let’s hope that happens in early 2011) would be a very daunting task, but the home field should really benefit B’More this week.  The Saints are a very good road team, but the Ravens are even better at home.  They owe the fans one after pooping away the last home game in the final minutes.

Ravens 24 Saints 21

I met this guy – “The Sidewalk Saint” – in the Big Easy last summer.  Here’s me showing him what’s what.  Let’s hope he remembers me on Sunday, and shakes his fist angrily at the sky after a Ravens win.


Can Mother Nature be Ravens' 13th (wo)Man vs. Saints?

December 16, 2010

The “Twelfth Man,” of course, being the “wall of purple” at M&T Bank Stadium.

As I sit here and watch the snow fall outside my window, I can’t help but wonder how the weather might help tip the scales in the Ravens’ favor just a bit this Sunday against New Orleans.

Here’s the current weather forecast for Sunday in B’More:


A high of 36…brr. The “sunny” thing is still a bit up in the air though, as several models are predicting more white stuff on Sunday. Via “Foot’s Forecast,” which specializes in the Central Maryland area:

The second (weekend) storm is one to keep a close eye on. It looks to come right on the exact day 365 days ago when on December 19, 2010 Baltimore received its’ first Kahuna of the winter. The time frame for this storm, if impacted the area, would be Saturday evening through Sunday evening. Right now the team continues to analyze all the models, which shows both extremes. One extreme shows the potential for a repeat of last December’s storm. Others show an out-to-sea situation which would leave us with no snow. We are fairly confident all precipitation with this storm will be snow, so the main thing to watch is how close to the coast this storm comes.

The Saints are a warm-weather dome team. They play in a conference where (oddly enough, since it’s the “South”) two of the four teams play their home games under roofs. As a result, they don’t get many opportunities to play out in the elements.

Going back to 2008, the Saints have played only a handful of games in cold weather. Two years ago, they lost in Chicago in overtime, 27-24, on a day where the kickoff temperature was a frosty 28 degrees.

Last year, they played in Washington on a 36 degree day, and needed overtime and a bevy of miscues from the lowly Redskins to come away with the win. In Week 17, they lost in Charlotte to the Panthers on a 30 degree day, but the Saints didn’t really “play” that day, having already clinched their Playoff slot.

They have some recent experience too though. Just two weeks ago in Cincinnati, game time kickoff was 32 degrees. The Saints were victorious in a tightly contested match-up, but again needed some late heroics – and luck – against a clearly inferior opponent.

When it comes down to it, the Saints definitely aren’t the Buccaneers, who CAN’T win in the cold. New Orleans has shown that they can find ways to win regardless of the weather. However, they’re not the dominant team that they are inside the comforts of the Superdome, that’s for damn sure.

We’ll take all the help we can get, so come on, Mother Nature – step up and be the Ravens’ “13th Man” Sunday.

Michael Oher in "The Offside"

December 15, 2010

The Blind Side… America has heard that amazing story. Unfortunately for the Ravens, it is now looking like Michael Oher is becoming the star of the sequel, “The Offside.”

If you hear offensive linemen’s names called during a game, it’s likely not good news – a penalty, missed assignment, or an injury.  Unfortunately, Ravens fans have been hearing Michael Oher’s name A LOT lately.  If his high school days were the basis for the book/movie The Blind Side, his sophomore NFL campaign would be more aptly titled The Offside.

Instead of singing his praises after games, we’ve instead heard Michael Oher’s name mentioned during the games; when the referee calls a penalty on #74 or when Jerry Sandusky says he should have picked up a corner blitz as the crowd watches Joe Flacco being scraped from the turf.

After suffering a knee injury against the Bucs, it seems that Oher has been trying to gain any advantage possible. The left tackle is the most important person on the offensive line (see: intro to The Blind Side book) and the consequences are more detrimental if he gets beat than any other lineman.  Oher’s seven false start penalties this season lead the Ravens and have become a cause for concern. I’d much rather see a O-lineman hold a player because frankly its a call that could be made on almost every play. At least holding a player takes him out of the equation thus not allowing strip sacks or even season ending injuries.  Oher’s issues start before the ball is even snapped though.

I am not even going to sit here and say that I could do any better. Oher is good at his job and has all the potential to be great.  It’s been a tough year, though.

The guys over at Pro Football Focus, who grade every player on every play during the season, have Oher as the worst Ravens’ offensive lineman this season, and as their 50th best tackle in 2010.  Fiftieth.  Ouch.

In addition, something as simple as hard counts and the timing with your other lineman has got to be Football 101 for these guys. Oher is a professional, and he needs to take care of this.

I think it’s safe to say that coaching will not win us a Super Bowl this year. In order for the Ravens to succeed, they’re going to have to keep winning with their talent, and despite their coaches’ odd decisions and game plans. It’s on the players to stop shooting themselves in the feet with silly false penalties – like false starts – though.

The ending of the “Baltimore Ravens 2010 Season” story is going to be written early February. It is either going to be a happy ending (fingers crossed) or one of frustration which may possibly carry over for longer than the usual off season, with a potential lockout looming. The authors of this story (Ravens players) need to bypass the editors (Coaches) and just make plays. Hopefully the authors do some editing too and throw the manuscript to The Offside in the trash.

Second Half Woes Plaguing Ravens' Offense

December 15, 2010

For about two and a half seasons, Ravens fans expressed frustration with Joe Flacco for his continual poor starts to games.  In the first half, the offense seemed to always come out sleepwalking, and slow starts became synonymous with the Ravens’ attack.

Lately though, there has been a role reversal.

Over the past four games, the Ravens’ offense has scored eight touchdowns in the first half – two against Carolina, two against Tampa Bay, one against Pittsburgh, and three against Houston.  Throw in a couple field goals, and they have put up 62 points in the first half of those four games; a very respectable average of 15.5 points per first half.

However, they have not scored a post-halftime offensive touchdown since the Atlanta game, managing nothing but field goals in the final thirty minutes of the last four games.

  • Carolina – 1 field goal, 2 defensive touchdowns
  • Tampa – no scoring
  • Pittsburgh – 1 field goal
  • Houston – 1 special teams touchdown

That’s just six total points put up by the offense in the second half over the last four games – a pitiful 1.5 points per second half average.

The one common denominator in all four of these games?

The Ravens held a halftime lead (17-3, 17-0, 7-0, 21-7).

Looks like “Cam Ball” is in full effect.

Whether or not it is a matter of the offense going into a self-imposed shell, or of the Ravens’ opponents simply doing that much better of a job making halftime adjustments, this team had better figure out a way to start putting up points throughout ball games, or any postseason life they have is sure to be short-lived.

Ravens 34 Texans 28 OT (The JOSH SAVES THE COLLAPSE Game)

December 14, 2010

Former University of Maryland Terrapin Josh Wilson was the hero in Houston, saving the Ravens from what would have arguably been the worst collapse in an important game in the team’s fifteen year history.  The Ravens blew a 28-7 lead, and were up by 15 entering the game’s final period.  However, as has been their M.O. this season, no lead was safe…

Nice company to be in, huh?


Those two ESPN graphics looked to be prescient and incredibly accurate as the Texans scored a touchdown and a 2-point conversion with just 21 seconds remaining in regulation to force the extra period.  With the way the Ravens defense played over the final quarter, overtime looked to be just a formality in what was to be another Ravens’ collapse and Texans’ come-back win.

Luckily, Josh Wilson stepped up to preserve the win for the good guys.

Let’s dive into this one a bit…

No blowout

With 14:30 to go in the third quarter, this game looked to finally be the complete dominant game that Ravens fans have been waiting for all season.  The offense had already put up 21 points, and touchdowns on two of their final three possessions of the half.  The defense had held the Texans’ high-powered attack to just a single score, a touchdown on a hurry-up drive to end the second quarter.  And kick returner David Reed set the franchise record for longest kickoff return with his 103-yard touchdown to start the second half.  Life was good in Purple Paradise.

Slowly but surely though, the wheels came off.  Again.

Letting them back in it

In fact, Reed’s kick return touchdown may have been a bit of a blessing and a curse.  Instead of a two-score game, the Houston Texans suddenly found themselves trailing by a full three touchdowns.  With any minute hopes of postseason play – and likely, their coach’s job – fading before their eyes, they developed a “nothing to lose” mentality.  They were forced to throw the ball, and be aggressive.  And with weapons like Houston has – wide receiver Andre Johnson, running back Arian Foster, tight end Owen Daniels – they are very capable of putting up points in bunches, which is just what they did.

On the ensuing possession after the kick return, Houston faced 4th-and-3 at the Ravens’ 41.  In a 21-7 game, they probably punt there.  Trailing 28-7 though, they were forced to go for it.  They converted, and seven plays later a Neil Rackers field goal made the score 28-10.

Then came the wonderful Cam Cameron “playing from ahead” offense.

This was a great tweet from Tony Lombardi of Ravens 24×7 during the game:

The Ravens next offensive play was a Ray Rice run for no gain.  After that, a nine-yard sack of Joe Flacco.  Two plays, and the drive was effectively over, as they faced a 3rd-and-19 at their own 13-yard line.  A 12-yard pass to Rice would be the Ravens’ final play of the quarter until he ran for 4 yards on the period’s last play.

In the entire third quarter, the Ravens offense ran 4 plays (not including the punt) for 7 yards.

Still, they led 28-13, so things were looking alright.

Defense gassed

Although they were on the field for about 13 minutes in the third quarter, the Ravens’ defense gave up only two field goals.  However, all that time on the field would result in some cumulative fatigue.  As a result, those third quarter field goals turned into fourth quarter touchdowns for Houston.

The offense again sputtered, picking up just two first downs before giving the ball back to the Texans. Five minutes and fifteen plays later, the score was 28-20.

The Ravens’ defense was struggling, and obviously needed a break before being sent back out on the field.

Then things really got weird.

More odd clock management

Last year, Ravens fans were frustrated with the way John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco managed timeouts and the clock in the final minutes of halves and games.  The Ravens’ two-minute drill was terribly ineffective in 2009, and many of us felt that just from having played Madden for a few years,  we better understood how to manipulate the game clock to our advantage than the Ravens did.

Obviously, that’s ridiculous.  But so is the way Harbaugh used…and continues to use…timeouts.

For whatever reason, those situations have been more rare in 2010 – the Ravens haven’t had too many occasions where they’ve had to run a two-minute drill and put up points. The first Pittsburgh game comes to mind, but that’s about it.

However, the Ravens’ coaches’ questionable decision-making with regards to clock management have reared their ugly head in other areas.  Last week, it was Cam Cameron’s decision to pass the ball on 2nd-and-5 in the game’s final minutes, resulting in Troy Polamalu’s sack-fumble and a Steelers win.  Last night, a similar situation presented itself.

The Ravens led 28-20 with 2:58 remaining in the game, and faced a 3rd down and 2 at the Texans’ 44-yard line.  Houston had just burned their final timeout of the half.  A first down here would seal the game for the Ravens.  However, failing that, just keeping the clock running would be the next best thing – a 1-yard run would result in a 4th down, but the Ravens could have taken the clock down to about 2:10, and then either used a timeout or taken a 5-yard delay of game penalty, punted, and pinned the Texans deep with two minutes to drive the length of the field, and – at best – a single stop of the clock from the two-minute warning.

Ravens Nation was screaming – RUN THE BALL.

Did Cam run the ball? Of course not. Incomplete pass, clock stops, and now Houston takes possession with 2:42 to go.  They would go 95 yards and score with, again, 21 seconds left.  The Ravens could have taken 40 seconds off the clock by running on 3rd-and-2.  You do the math.

When asked after the game about the decision to pass, John Harbaugh responded with some nonsense about “not thinking about the clock there,” and that “we wanted the first down.”  Really coach, NOT thinking about the clock at all? Your biggest ally at that point in the game?  Yeah, that’s not asinine or anything.

And did the rules change? You can’t get a first down by running?

“It’s all Cam’s fault,” is still a popular mantra in Baltimore today, even with the Ravens’ win.

Taking them with you?

As odd as the decision to run the ball on 3rd-and-2 was, the coaches’ use of timeouts down the stretch was even stranger.  As mentioned, the defense was GASSED.  They had nothing left.

Greg Mattison is being criticized today for his 3-man rush late in the game today.  There is some merit to that, however, there are other circumstances to examine.  It’s widely understood that the most exhausting thing to do in football is rush the passer.  Matt Schaub threw 62 passes in the game, the great majority of which were in the second half.  The Ravens didn’t have anybody with enough energy to blitz.  This was never more painfully obvious than when, with 1:07 to go, Schaub scrambled for eight yards to the Ravens’ 35.  On the play, Jarret Johnson was giving chase, but Schaub – who runs something like a 5.5 40 – looked like Mike Vick running from the tired J.J.

The defense had nothing left.  What the team did have left was timeouts.  Two of them, to be exact.  Twice in the final minute the Texans stopped the clock – once by running out of bounds and once with a spike.  Two opportunities for the Ravens to use a timeout and give their defense a breather while not “helping the Texans out” at all by stopping the clock.  They chose not to, for whatever reason.

I’m shocked that one of the players – especially an Ed Reed or Ray Lewis – didn’t look around at their exhausted teammates and say “f this, coach,” and take a timeout on their own accord.

Now, with 21 seconds remaining, the score is 28-26.  A stop on the two-point conversion try can still win the game.  With 21 seconds, any dreams of having time after the kickoff to move down the field and get into field goal range are out of the question.  These timeouts can do absolutely no good after this play. You can’t take them with you into overtime.


This decision still boggles my mind.

The real hero

With all due respect to Wilson, perhaps the real hero of the game is Cory Redding.  Redding stood at midfield before the overtime period, and correctly guessed “tails” on the coin flip.  Had the Ravens lost the toss, I have no doubt that we would be talking about an 8-5 team today.  The utterly pooped Ravens’ defense was not going to go back out there and stop Houston, not without at least a small break.

Tails gave them that break.

With a chance to go win the game, the offense of course failed again.  They did at least pick up a first down and hold the ball for three minutes.  Apparently, that was all the defense needed.

In the two plays that they were on the field in OT, the Ravens got great pressure with four rushers on Schaub.  It was Haloti Ngata harassing him in his own end zone that caused the errant pass from Schaub that ended the game.

Thanks for the drops

This recap is getting a bit too lengthy, so I’ll cut it short and save some other observations (terrible O-line play, great special teams) for a later post.  However, any analysis of this game can’t ignore the fact that the Texans started the game unable to catch a cold.

Texans’ receivers dropped five or six passes in the first half, which went a huge way in allowing the Ravens to build the 21 point lead that, in the end, they needed every bit of.

Thanks for being terrible at catching, Texans.

Now the Ravens come back home to face the Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints, who are finally getting healthy and seem to be hitting their stride as the season comes to a close.

Fun fun.

Goob's Instant Reaction – Ravens/Texans

December 14, 2010

Here’s Goob Theoharris with his instant reaction to the Ravens’ near-crushing defeat at the hands of the Houston Texans.  The Ravens blew a huge second half lead and needed an overtime pick six from Josh Wilson to escape Reliant Stadium with the win.  Here’s an irate Goob:

Note: Goob’s anger/inebriation caused him to take some liberties with NFL history here a bit.  When he talks about Drew Brees “sitting on the bench” (1:30, 3:32), he’s mistaken.  Brees, when he was with the San Diego Chargers and Cam Cameron was the offensive coordinator, was the starter for his final four seasons.  What Goob had meant to say was a point that has been brought up a lot recently in Baltimore; that is, that Brees as well as Philip Rivers really only flourished once Cam was gone from San Diego.  Please excuse him for making things up.  Thanks.

Goob's Pregame Thoughts: Ravens-Texans

December 12, 2010

Here’s Goob Theoharris, coming out of hiding after a week’s hiatus. He puts the Pittsburgh game to bed for starters, then tells us why the Ravens will win down at Reliant Stadium.

Ravens (8-4) @ Texans (5-7)

December 12, 2010

The Ravens head to Houston for the second time in three years on Monday night, hoping for a repeat of the 41-13 drubbing they put on the Texans in 2008. Thanks to Carson Palmer being the worst quarterback in the history of anything ever, they need a win to stay within one game of Pittsburgh atop the AFC North.

The 2010 Texans, despite their 5-7 record, look to be a more formidable opponent than the 2008 version, which was quarterbacked by good old Sage Rosenfels when the Ravens played them. Matt Schaub will be on the field this time around, along with the NFL’s leader in rushing yards and yards from scrimmage, running back Arian Foster. The Ravens will have to put up similar resistance to Foster as they displayed against Michael Turner of the Atlanta Falcons and Rashard Mendenhall of Pittsburgh last week to give themselves a chance on Monday Night Football. If Foster gets untracked, the already daunting task of keeping Schaub and the rest of the Texans’ high-flying aerial attack – which includes All-World wide receiver Andre Johnson – becomes all the more difficult.

Although this was supposed to be the year that the Ravens’ offense finally outshined – or at least, kept up with – the defense, it has been more of the same. The defense enters Week 14 ranked seventh in the NFL, and seems to really be hitting their stride of late. Since the Buffalo game in Week 7, when they gave up 34 points and dropped to 10th in the league in total defense, the Ravens have given up just 14.4 points per game (if you take out the Atlanta game, that average drops to 11.5 ppg). Terrell Suggs had arguably the best game of his life – and one of the most dominant games by any Ravens defender in their history – in last week’s losing effort against Pittsburgh. The Ravens will likely be wearing their black pants again in Houston, so hopefully Suggs could be in for another huge prime-time performance (for whatever reason, he is better in the black pants).

While they’ll be hard pressed to keep Houston under say, 20 points or so, they should at least be able to force a few turnovers to keep the Texans from lighting up the scoreboard to any appreciable degree. Houston has put up at least 20 in five consecutive games, so the onus will likely fall on the Ravens offense to break out of their recent funk.

Speaking of the anemic offense, to say that it’s been a frustrating struggle as of late would be an understatement. Reiterating that its been “business as usual” in Baltimore this season, the offense again finds itself ranked considerably lower than the defense. Despite all the shiny weapons, the Ravens offense has sputtered and spit since the bye week, culminating in last week’s disastrous performance in front of the home crowd with the division title in the balance. Since the Week 8 break, Joe Flacco & Co. have managed more than two offensive touchdowns in just one game – Atlanta, and that was after getting completely shut out in the first half of that contest.

John Harbaugh wants to get the run game on track down the stretch, but Houston looks to be capable of much less resistance through the air (worst in the league in pass defense) than on the ground (#10 against the run). The Ravens’ inability to effectively run the ball has certainly had a lot to do with their struggles this year. As the Sun’s Ken Murray breaks down here, the Ravens are just barely ahead of the Indianapolis Colts for worst rushing average in the league.

Only one NFL team has a worse rushing average per carry than the Ravens’ 3.6, and that’s a team that can’t run the ball at all — the Colts, who averaged 3.47 going into Thursday night’s game.

The Ravens rank 31st in the league in rush average (3.623), percentage points behind the Seahawks (3.648).

The Ravens’ inefficiency is not for lack of trying. They rank seventh in the league in rush attempts (359). But 13 teams have rushed for more first downs than the Ravens; only nine teams have scored fewer rushing touchdowns than Baltimore.

It’s apparent that this team is missing Jared Gaither far more than we would have hoped. The big tackle’s absence is also being felt in pass protection, where the Ravens have allowed 17 sacks over the past five games (Flacco is just five sacks away from a career high in that area, set last year at 32). It’s disappointing that Oneil Cousins can’t get on the field, as though Marshal Yanda has played well at RT, he is still far more suited to move inside and play guard. The return of Le’Ron “Ankle Sprain” McClain, who missed the Steelers game, could help open up some holes for Ray Rice.

His final two attempts aside, Flacco played a fairly good game against the Steelers, connecting on deep passes to Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth, and extending the play nicely on his only score of the night, a 14-yarder to Boldin. He should be able to have a field day against the Texans though, who are allowing over 287 yards per game through the air, and a league-worst 27 passing touchdowns. Fans who like to get on the case of members of the Ravens’ secondary should be thanking their lucky stars that we don’t have Houston’s defensive backfield. Seriously – they’re awful. If Flacco can’t find a comfort zone Monday night at Reliant Stadium, it seems unlikely that this offense will come together at all this year.

Hell, they put up 41 down there two years ago with Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton, and damn Yamon Figurs as the WRs. It would be a good night to start those Ravens wideouts in your fantasy football playoffs.

A nice side effect of the offense getting their shit together (besides, you know…winning)? More kickoff attempts for Billy Cundiff. The Ravens’ placekicker needs just seven more touchbacks to set a new NFL record. The temperature-controlled, warm weather conditions in Houston are a great chance for Billy to really cut into that number before finishing the season with likely three cold weather games in outdoor stadiums (two in Baltimore, one in Cleveland).

Come on guys, do it for Billy.

Although Pittsburgh won, at least the New York Jets lost on Sunday, so the Ravens can move up from the #6 AFC Playoff spot where they sit now to #5 by pulling even with Gang Green at 9-4.

Since they fumbled away their best shot at winning the division (and a home playoff game or two), the Ravens will have to beat playoff-caliber teams on the road in January. To even have that opportunity though, they’ll still likely need to beat a non-playoff team (or two) on the road in December. The “road warrior” mentality needs to set in now.

Ravens 31 Texans 20

O's Add Reynolds, Hardy; Luke Scott Should "Hardly" Talk

December 9, 2010

I’d like to thank Andy MacPhail and the Orioles for at least doing a little something this week at the MLB Winter Meetings.  It’s been a nice distraction from thinking about that gut-punch Ravens loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday night.

Let’s take a look at what the other team in town has been up to… (for these moves, I’ll defer to some O’s bloggers whose opinions regarding the orange and black are much more sophisticated than anything I can give you right now, with my one track – purple – mind.)

Trade with Diamondbacks for Mark Reynolds

The first move of substance was a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks.  The O’s sent relief pitchers Kam Mickolio and David Hernandez to Arizona for the feast or famine (home run or strike out, basically) Reynolds, who will play 3B in Baltimore. This move was enough for one of the fellas over at Eutaw Street Hooligans to declare “this is my happiest day ever as an O’s fan.”

Reynolds is a masher who strikes out a ton and walks a whole lot as well, he may be the definition of a true three outcome player. Why is this a bad thing? Old school baseball guys see his sub .200 batting average and 200 plus strikeout totals and immediately write him off as a bad player. Well, old school baseball guys are stupid and I will attempt to tell you why.

The majority of the offensive game (especially on the Orioles over the last decade) is played without runners in scoring position. And when there are no runners in scoring position, an out is an out. Whether it is a strikeout, a flyout or a groundout. The only time one kind of out is worse than any other kind is when you ground into a double play, which is impossible to do if you strikeout. What is the difference in striking out 200 times and grounding out 200 times?

Next useless old guy baseball stat, batting average. Mark Reynolds hit .198 last season and will never sniff .300 in that category. So, what does this tell us? I’m not really sure but I do know that he walks a ton and his career low for on base percentage is .320 which tells us that he is still on base more often than the average MLBer and all but 5 Orioles regulars (including Brian Roberts) last season. The point of getting a hit is to get on base, so why is it more important to old guys that you get on base by getting a hit rather than taking a walk? Does anyone have an answer for me? If you are going to bring up that it matters when there are runners in scoring position then you should probably check some stats first. I totally agree with you that a hit is a better outcome than a walk with RISP but even still a walk is not a negative outcome in that situation. Oh yeah, Reynolds also hit a respectable .276 with RISP last year and also had an OPS of 1.033 in that same situation. So that means that in the small percentage of plate appearances where a hit is clearly a better outcome than a walk he understands that and is able to raise his batting average significantly.

Trade with Minnesota Twins for J.J. Hardy

Making a move to upgrade the offensive production at the shortstop position, the O’s then made a deal with the Twins for J.J. Hardy, dealing minor league RPs Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobesen. I’ll let Heath of Dempsey’s Army take it from here:

In a market where legitimate shortstops were scarce, the Orioles got the best one available. Hardy will be 27 next season and is a good bet to be a league average hitter. Unlike Jason Bartlett, (who the O’s were linked to earlier in the week) he’s also a very good fielder. He represents a huge upgrade over Cesar Izturis. Speaking of Izturis, in terms of UZR, Hardy’s just as good with the glove as Izzy was, maybe just a hair better. A glove like Izturis who is a league average hitter? It’s a big swing in talent for the shortstop position.

Resigned Koji Uehara

Last, but not least, the O’s also resigned pitcher Koji Uehara. Here’s Chris Stoner of Baltimore Sports and Life, on the signing:

He missed all of April, and basically all of May and June as well.  After the All-Star break, he put up the following numbers: 33 games, 35 ip, 26 hits, 5 bb’s, 45 k’s,  5 homers, .200 baa, (.594 OPS for the season) That is excellent production.

Uehara is a joy to watch pitch, because he is capable of working up/down, in/out. His velocity is mediocre/poor, but his movement is outstanding. With his control, there is no reason why he can not continue to help the O’s. If he could stay relatively healthy, he would have a chance to accumulate the numbers that will garner him far more attention.

Luke Scott Says Stuff

While these moves serve to arguably all improve the team to some degree or another, none of them made the kind of splash to garner the O’s any sort of national attention (like, say, the Washington Nationals coming out of nowhere and backing the Brinks Truck up for Jason Werth). However, Luke Scott was down in Orlando for the meetings, and got the O’s ALL KINDS of attention, albeit completely unwanted.

Luke, the O’s resident gun-toting Ted Nugent enthusiast, had a conversation with Yahoo! writer David Brown. In it, he, among other things, revealed himself to be an Obama “birther.” That is, one of those people who believes our President was not in fact born in the United States.

DB: You don’t think that Obama wasn’t born in the United States, do you?

LS: He was not born here.

DB: [Sighs].

LS: That’s my belief. I was born here. If someone accuses me of not being born here, I can go — within 10 minutes — to my filing cabinet and I can pick up my real birth certificate and I can go, “See? Look! Here it is. Here it is.” The man has dodged everything. He dodges questions, he doesn’t answer anything. And why? Because he’s hiding something.

This prompted the Orioles organization to quickly distance themselves from Luuuuuuuuuuke’s comments, which picked up a great deal of traction from outlets such as Fox, The Huffington Post, and others.

I have no desire to use a sports blog as a platform to make any sort of political rant.  In Luke’s case, he would be wise to at least pick a better forum to spout off on his beliefs.  He was at the damn Major League Baseball Winter Meetings…presumably, on his employer’s dime – an employer who, by the way, is a well known liberal-leaning fellow.  Luke, save this kind of stuff for the pages of Guns ‘N Ammo, or whatever other NRA-approved publication would be happy to print your thoughts.  Otherwise, keep your mouth shut, keep hitting the ball a long way, and stop embarrassing not only the guy who signs your checks, but many of the people who cheer for you every night.


December 6, 2010

Crimson silver lining? Meh.

Once again, the Pittsburgh Steelers made plays in the fourth quarter to win the game.

And the Baltimore Ravens did not.

For all the hand-wringing, critiquing of Joe Flacco’s line-of-scrimmage presence, and bitching about Cam Cameron we could do, it all pretty much comes down to those two irrefutable facts.  Two facts that have come to characterize this rivalry over the last half-decade, especially when #7 is lined up under center for the bad guys.

This one hurts.

Hopefully, the Ravens will bounce back and win at least three of their remaining four games.  Dreams of a home playoff game are pretty much just that at this point.  But after last night’s performance, what confidence do you really have that this team is, or was ever, a legitimate Super Bowl contender?  We had waited and waited for them to finally put up the kind of offensive performance that we all hope they’re capable of.  Then, last night, when the time couldn’t have been better – the Pittsburgh Steelers were ripe for the picking – our great-on-paper offense managed a measly ten points.  TEN POINTS.

Ooooh, but it was the vaunted Steelers’ defense.

You know, the one that gave up 20 points to New Orleans. And 21 to the Bengals.  And THIRTY-NINE to the Patriots.  Yeah, that one.

And the Ravens managed but a touchdown and a field goal.  With more than a handful of chances in the third and fourth quarters to go out and win the damn game, the Ravens’ offense sputtered and faltered and looked completely inept.

How absolutely pathetic.

Derrick Mason said it best:

“It’s sad to say, but we’re just not a good offense at times,” Mason said. “We really aren’t. For whatever reason it is, I don’t know. But we’re not a good offense at times. I’m not pointing any fingers at anybody because I’m part of the equation, but we’re just not a good offense at times.”

“I might get crucified for this one, but with all these people we’ve got on offense?” Mason said. “We’re not a good offense at times. Just call it how you see it. Call a spade a spade. If we were a good offense, we’d move the ball up and down the field. Especially with the people we have and the quarterback and the personnel we have. But we’re just not a good offense at times. ,.. We look like the Bad News Bears at times. And I’m a part of it.”

Mason said said several times he wasn’t pointing fingers. And that he shared in whatever blame there was to go around. But it was time to stop making excuses, both for the players and the coaches.

“We’ve just got to come to a point where it’s stop all the [stuff] and play football,” Mason said. “Put some points on the board and not allow teams to come back in the second half, not put the pressure on our defense to have to stop somebody in the last second of the game. Just [put] some points on the board and move forward.”

Mason said it was obvious the offense has putting the defense in an unfair position lately with its second half struggles, and there was no point in denying it anymore.

“I’m tired of playing tough games,” Mason said. “Let’s just go blow somebody out. We’re capable of doing it and we just don’t do it. I don’t know what it is. Nobody says we shouldn’t be able to put up 30 points against a good team. We’re not a good offense at times. I know it gets frustrating for (the defense). It has to. I can see their faces coming off the sideline. They have to get frustrated. We can’t put out defense in that situation.”

And as far as the play that really decided the game – the forced fumble by Troy Polamalu – Terrell Suggs feels the exact same way about it that you, I, and every Ravens fan out there does.

Thank you Sizzle.  He saw it.  We saw it.  What the hell Flacco, Michael Oher, Matt Birk, and the rest of the Ravens’ offensive line were thinking, I’d love to know.

Just a terrible, terrible loss.

Again, all credit to Pittsburgh.  They made the plays in the fourth.  The Ravens did not.  Again.  Same old story.